Causes of high blood sugar are many, but they boil down to your body not regulating the amount of sugar or glucose in your blood properly. Diabetes is the most common cause of high blood sugar, affecting about 8% of the general population, but there are two main types of diabetes and many different reasons for developing either one of them.
Type 1 (“juvenile”) diabetes usually comes from an attack of antibodies that you body makes against certain cells in your pancreas that manufacture the hormone insulin. The body uses and needs insulin to use glucose from the bloodstream properly. This type of diabetes is therefore usually called “auto-immune.” Some people can lose their pancreas from trauma, surgery, or another disease and end up with this type of diabetes without necessarily having auto-antibodies against their pancreas beta cells or islet cells that make the insulin. During treatment, a high blood sugar can happen when the person has not taken enough insulin to process the amount of carbohydrates and resultant glucose that goes out into the bloodstream as the meal digests.
Type 2 diabetes is the far more common form of the condition. This form of diabetes involves a loss of the effectiveness of insulin so that the body cells respond with what is called insulin resistance, and the glucose (fuel for the body cells) is not taken up properly into the cells. Type 2 diabetes rates are higher with age, so that 27% of people age 65 and older have diabetes, most of the problem as Type 2. Certain ethnic and racial groups are more prone to developing diabetes, especially certain Hispanics (Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans more than Cubans), blacks, and Native Americans. More and more children are turning up not only with type 1 diabetes, but also even with type 2 diabetes in developed countries like the U.S.
In addition to the roughly 18.8 million people with diagnosed diabetes, there are 7 undiagnosed cases and 79 million people with pre diabetes – high blood sugar levels not quite meeting doctors’ criteria for the diabetes diagnosis, but at risk of going on to develop the problem. Type 2 diabetics often have what is called metabolic syndrome, with abnormally high blood cholesterol (blood fats), overweight or obesity, and high blood pressure too, in addition to high blood sugar.
In addition to genes, diet, and sedentary lifestyle with no exercise, other causes can include treatment for another medical problem with steroid drugs like Prednisone or a related medication. Steroids can raise blood sugar and create a diabetic situation. Some newer psychiatric drugs can also cause an increase in blood sugar and a pre diabetic or diabetic condition. Stress can certainly release hormones in the body like cortisol, which is a natural stress hormone – but one that increases insulin resistance and raises blood sugar. Infection, other illnesses, and surgery can also raise blood sugar levels, especially in pre diabetics or diabetics.
Then there is gestational diabetes. A certain percentage of pregnant women can develop diabetes only during pregnancy, which increases the riskiness of the pregnancy for them and their baby – and needs immediate and close medical attention. Gestational diabetes may go away, but it could be a warning sign of increased risk that the woman might later develop diabetes without being pregnant.
To learn more about the statistics on diabetes, check out this resource from the American Diabetes Association here.
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